Betrayal

Crow“So, what d’you fink?”  The crow is back on the lamp post outside my window.  It is his third visit this morning, but the air outside is still cold so I have been pretending to ignore him.

“About what?”  I ask, through my grudgingly opened casement.

“This, mate.  This!”

I stare cluelessly at him for a moment while he turns to face me, then away, and finally perches on one leg with his shoulders hunched and his head lowered.  At last I comprehend.  He is posing.   “Very nice!”  I try to sound enthusiastic.

“Nice?  Nice?  Do you know how long this took me?  Look at them fevvers!  Look at that shine!  Sex on wings, mate, that’s me.  Irresistible, in’ I?”

“You look very…”  I grope for a word…”personable.”

“Personable?”  I have ruffled those magnificent feathers.  “No, mate, I ain’t like no person.  Not like a person at all.”

I have neglected to remember the world outside is heavily engaged in the machinations of Spring.  Cherry blossom is on the bough, clouds are white and fluffy, and there is romance in the air.

“So, you’re going courting?”  I say.  “I thought you guys were supposed to be monogamous?”

Crow fixes me with a reproachful eye.  “You ‘ave to do that, don’t yer?”

“Do what?”

“Remind me!  Listen, mate.   One lot of kids – out the way.  They’re gone.  Me, I been workin’ me beak off fetchin’ an’ carryin’, stuffin’ the little buggers wiv’ anything I can find just to keep their crops full.  Now they’re big enough to do their own stuffing, and I got four days – five if I’m lucky – ‘fore it’s all twigs and mud again; know what I mean?”  He refers to the next clutch of eggs, of course.  I nod my understanding.

“See, it’s not jus’ me, is it?  You should see ‘er!  She’s down the playing fields hoppin’ around wiv that chuffin’ chough from Number Three Elm, makin’ out like she’s just two again.  She’s been comin’ home wiv ‘er tail fevvers in a ruck for a week!  It’s disgustin’, that’s what it is!”

This drift in our conversation is making my crow agitated.  He is stamping his feet on the top of his lamp-post perch and pecking the plastic cover repeatedly.  “How do I know whose chicks I’m goin’ to be slavin’ over next month?  Do you know what chough eggs look like?”

I admit that I don’t.  “You’re concerning yourself unnecessarily.  I’m not sure what you’re suggesting is even possible.” I stop myself from chuckling, because my friend is obviously a soul in torment, caught in a very human dilemma.

“Maybe you do need some recreation.”  I say, more to placate him than anything else.  “What will you do with your four days?  Do you have a seduction plan?”

Again I am treated to that askance look.  “If yer mean am I goin’ to pull – too right!   I’m off down Carter’s Farm this very mornin’, I am.  They’re sowin’ the twelve acre, aren’t they?  Twelve acres of hedge to hedge talent, mate – you wouldn’t believe!”

“Mind you don’t get your beak caught in the drill.”  I warn him sardonically.  “Aren’t you getting a little mature for this?”

“Are you talkin’ about my age again?  Here, watch this.”  Crow launches himself from the top of the lamppost, executes a near vertical climb, then an immaculate stall turn, which he recovers with vigorous wing flapping.  Just as suddenly, he turns the ascent into a nose dive, wings near-folded, only to convert into a banked turn a few inches from the ground.  To complete this curious demonstration of corvid aerobatics, he does an upward swoop, landing back on the lamp-post with elegant precision.  “Does that look ‘old’ to yer?  Does it?”   His wing is dragging a little and clearly hurts him.  He stabs it with his beak in annoyance.  “In me prime, mate.  In me prime.”

I give him a twisted smile, with as much of my face as remains unfrozen by that inclement morning breeze.   “You’re not really going to cheat on your wife.”  I tell him.  “You’re dreaming.  Those young birds would laugh at you.”

“Nah.”

“Pardon?”

“Nah.  Alright?  Nah, I’m not goin’ to cheat on ‘er!  She’d peck me ‘ead in, she would.  I’d lose me tree rights.  I’m a territorial, I am!  I got a nest site, I have – and a good one, too!  I’m respected!  See what I mean?”

I do see.  The winter has been mild, leaving a sky full of spring survivors, and only a few of those young birds will be able to breed because there is simply insufficient space.  The older ‘territorial’ birds will monopolise the breeding as they always do.  But there will be squabbling and fights.

“So you intend to seduce some poor young innocent into thinking you’ll settle down and have chicks with her, when all you really want to do is ruffle her feathers?”

The crow pauses to consider my euphemism for a second.   “Fink so, that’s about it.”

“If that isn’t cheating, I don’t know what is.  I’m ashamed of you!”

“Yeah, but….”   He looks at me uneasily.  “What do we do it for, eh?  I mean, what do us males get out of it?”

I am flattered by this inclusion.  I find myself briefly checking to make sure I am displaying no feathers of my own.  “Us?”   I try to answer truthfully.  “What does anybody get out of it?  Nothing, I guess – maybe a kindred spirit to cleave to when the wind blows; maybe another voice in the silence.  Perhaps that isn’t the way to think of it.  We don’t do it for ourselves, do we?  We do it for our children.  It’s what they get out of it that counts.”   Trying a smile, I add:  “And a few precious moments following the seed drill on Carter’s Farm.”

My crow is suddenly still.   “But then yer chicks grow up, don’t they?  And that’s us left chasing dreams.  An’ every summer is a summer less, and suddenly there’s no chicks anymore, and we can’t fly as high as we did, or as fast.  An’ sometime we have to stop, and ask ourselves really, what was it all about?”

I find I cannot answer.  To try to do so would be to confront my own broken dreams, and in my own defence I must close that portal or it will consume me; so, with sadness, I reach up to the window sash, to gently pull it closed.  As I do so, I catch the eye of my crow watching me, sharing my thoughts, exposing my innermost dread.    I might almost imagine his sigh, but of course, that is impossible.  With a graceful shift of balance the bird takes flight, away into the grey morning, and away from me.

In my heart I know I will never see him again.

 

 

 

Standard Assessment Tests

Today the nation’s 6-7 and 10-11 year olds (years two and six) will set off for school knowing they have got ‘exams’.

Whether it is reasonable to ask that children so early in their educational development MH900439442should be subjected to pressures associated with standard assessment testing is an open debate.  It certainly deserves a carefully constructed reply.  And we can discount anything issued in statements from the relevant government departments, such as:  ‘These are merely assessments, they will not impinge upon your child’s prospects for future education’ and ‘There is no cause for concern’.

Yeah, right.

‘Don’t worry’ is a standard treatment.  When you hear it from an elected official; worry.

And if we are asked to believe that every child who sallies forth this morning will not do so with their equivalent of that same official platitude ringing in their ears, that is the strong ‘encouragement’ of their ambitious parents, we are being accused undeservedly of naivety.   In a child’s world, parents are officialdom; anxiety to please is a pressure, and competition is a test of those friendships and attachments so important at this formative age.

When will Academia finally admit it does not understand its own market place?  When will ‘elected’ politicians accept that not everything is determined by a league table or a series of ‘targets’?  It might be great for modern marketing, but it is not for kids.

In a sense, I have a stake in this.  But at the same time I have to emphasise I am somewhat unusual in my antipathy towards ambition and material greed.   So, in another sense, I have no personal axe to grind.

When I was a child of ten or eleven, there was an instituted testing system called the ‘Eleven Plus’.  All children of my time (other than those in private education) took this test, and upon its results went on to Grammar or Secondary School education.  I failed it.

Did that shape my future education?   You bet it did.  Did it prejudice my career choices?  Absolutely.

It was another twenty years before I sat another test to uncover what apparently someone, somewhere, missed.  I took the Cattell IQ test for British Mensa and passed with an IQ of 160, placing my IQ rating in the top 0.5 percent of the population.  At the time, as for most of my adult life, I was running my own business.  It did not affect me then, nor does it now.   This year I resigned my Mensa membership because I have been inactive for some years.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I enjoyed my education, probably because it did not stretch me to the maximum.  I have spent the rest of my life trying to compensate for that deficiency.  I became the head boy of my school and took a number of examinations when I left, but they alone could not help me recover the lost ground the Secondary Ed. label produced.  I repeat, it did not matter so much to me.  I was a child of the ‘sixties.

I am upset, nevertheless, to see our education model slithering surreptitiously back in the direction of that late ‘fifties early ‘sixties model.  For some reason we feel it is essential that our education targets match those of China or Japan, that somehow we have to ‘lead the world’ in education.  Our case is not the same.  Our children are not, by and large, striving to rise from abject poverty, and the society waiting to welcome them is not so narrow it can only encompass an intake of youthful genius.  The extreme danger is that it will become so.  One of the immense advantages of Western civilisation is its sense of breadth and balance.  If we lose that through an attempt to embrace Academia as a growth industry rather than a service we risk narrowing our personal focus.

Therein lies insanity.

 

 

 

Digital Conversations

The day is Saturday.  The scene is a town somewhere in Essex.  Noreen Scragshot stands before a department store window.  She takes her mobile from her bag and taps a name:

 

“Hi Trix:   it’s Noreen – you all right, mate?file9931276033013

Who? Paul?   Yeah, well, he texted me.  His signal’s real bad down there.

You better?

Your headache, and that?

Lovely!  Trix?  Guess where I am?

I am.  I’m outside Browngrow’s!  You should see the red halter tops they got in the window – you know, them ones with the glittery bits like the one Cassiopeia nearly wore at Baz’s party?   Get down here, mate!

What?

Oh yeah, I forgot the funeral!  So, so sorry.  She was a lovely woman, lovely.  We’ll miss her.   So who’s got the terrible twins – David?

He’s with you.  So who….

Wally?  Trix, love, was that wise?

Yeah, I know he gets on with them.  All the same….

Margie organised everything, didn’t she?  Bless her!  Did they give her a good send-off?

They didn’t!   Seriously?

Yeah, I know she was in the corps de ballet once, but I’m not sure a tutu is….

No, well if Margie said it was alright, I suppose.

Not a bad figure for a woman of ninety-seven.  David said that?

No, well, I supp-o-se.  Here, Trix, I hope you stayed off the bevvies at the reception, mate;  you know what you’re like.

Who?

NO!  Really?  Well, that’s Angelina for you.

She fell in the….   Trix, are we sure a chocolate fountain is entirely proper for a funeral?

Yes, I know.  Margie organised it.  Here, speak of the devil.  Listen, mate, I’ve got Wally on ‘call waiting’.  I’ll say ta-ra, yeah?  Speak to you soon…”

 

Noreen bids an unwilling goodbye to the halter tops and turns for West Street and home.  She takes Walter Bollomy’s call.

 

“Hello Wals.  How are you getting on?

Kids?

Oh, I know.  Trix never disciplines them, Wal.  No naughty step, see?

Yeah, I know she lives in a bungalow.  Little tip, darlin’.   They love to play hide and seek.

Yeah.

Get them going on that and it shuts ’em up for ages.

What?

You’re breaking up, Wals.  Something about ‘lots of boxes’?

Wally?

Oh, he’s gone.”

 

At the pedestrian crossing Noreen calls Paul Bagstart.

 

“Paul, darlin’.

Yeah, I got your text.  You’re not coming tonight – why, mate?  I’ve done the pancakes, and I done my special avocado fondant dip, and everything.

Hmmm?

Trix isn’t coming, Paul.   She’s got a funeral, hasn’t she?

What do you mean, you’ll be knackered?   I’m knackered, doing all that catering.  Cheers, Paul.  Thanks a lot, mate.

Yeah, you get lost, an’ all!”

 

Noreen cuts Paul off.  The crossing lights change.  Watching her ‘phone, Noreen collides with an elderly pedestrian.

 

“Here, Mrs!  You want to look where you’re going!”

 

Walter Bollomy’s name flashes.

 

“Silly cow!”

 

She opens Walter’s call.

 

“Hello Wals?

Line’s still bad.

Hide and seek.  Yeah.

What?

Wally?

Nope, lost you.  He’s gone.”

 

Noreen calls Charles Windrush

 

“Hey Chas?  It’s Noreen.

Blimey, you’re breathin’ ‘eavy an’ all.  What’s going on?   I was on to Paul just now and he sounded like he’d been pushin’ that Porsche of his.  Yeah, (chuckles) again. He never gets that out of breath normally – not watching football, and that.

You aren’t?   Both of you?

Yeah, I know you’re the only one with a roof rack.  What’s that got to do with anything?

Oh, you were helping Jack move house!  Of course!  I forgot it was this week.  How are you getting on?

All done.  What, so now you’ve got to get over to Wally’s?  For the footy, I suppose.

Yeah, well.

Listen, Trix is trying to call me back.  I’ll see you soon, yeah?”

 

Trixie Ballerdash’s name is flashing.  Noreen answers.

 

“Trix!  All right, mate?

How’s Angelina?

Aww!  You got her home, then?

She’s collapsed where?

Let her sleep, mate, it’s the only way.

Why’s Paul complaining?

Let me get that right; he can step over her but he can’t close the door.

Yeah, s’pose that is one door he’d need to close, isn’t it?

Just tell him to get on with it, mate.  Angie won’t know a thing.

Yeah. Listen, Trix, get over to Wally’s place and get the twins back.

I know,  mate, I know. It’s just, well, it’s just Wally, isn’t it?  He worries me, he does.

Well, Okay.  See ya!”

 

Walter Bollomy’s name is flashing

 

“Wally, what is it darlin’?

Wal, it’s no good; I can’t hear you.

Hide and seek, yeah.  Listen, Trix is on her way over….oh, bugger!

Look, Wal, there’s no signal, yeah?  Text me, darlin’.

No, TEXT me.  Tee, ee, ex….  Wal?

Wal?”

 

Noreen closes the line with a sigh.  She turns into the road which will lead her away from the town centre and up High Tower Hill.  The walk home is a pleasant enough stroll through avenues lined with larches – a matter of twenty minutes to Neverlands Crescent where she resides, or thirty minutes on six-inch heels. She will soon be within sight of the two bright orange pillars that frame her front door.  Jack Lopghast’s name flashes on her ‘phone.

 

“Jack!  Sweetheart!

I was just thinking of you!  I said to myself, Jack’s moving house today:  I must call him and see how he….

Yeah, how did you get on?

All gone smoothly?  That Paul’s a real broad pair of shoulders, isn’t he?  I wouldn’t say no to an Argentine Tango or two with him, Jack, I don’t mind admitting.

Ooo you dirty sod!  What d’you mean, he couldn’t raise so much as a laugh?  Yeah, he said he was knackered.

You both are?  Well, it’s moving, isn’t it – all the stress and that.

Chas has buggered off?

He’s left you and Paul to do all the shifting in?  That’s not like Chas, Jack, now is it?

Yeah, I know he’s the only one with a roof rack.  Let me tell you sweetheart, the way he drives, you’re lucky you haven’t got a houseful of matchwood.

Yeah.  Listen, sweetheart, where was he going?

He had to what?

Oh, gawd, I’ve got Trix on the other line.  I’ll get back to you, yeah?”

 

Noreen closes the call, and answers Trixie’s tone.

 

“Hi Trix!

What?

No, no.

Calm down, mate!  What is it?

Stop sobbing, I can’t hear what you’re saying, yeah?

Slow down, mate – take a nice deep breath.

Oh my god!

You’ve lost one of the twins?  Which one’s missing?

Daisy.  Daisy’s missing.  You’ve been right through Wally’s house and you can’t find her, yeah?

You called out for her?

What about little Robbo – doesn’t he know where she is?

They were playing Hide and Seek and Daisy was hiding.  No, so he wouldn’t know,would he?

No, I’m not bein’ stupid, Trix.  No, I’m not a plank – you got no reason to call me that.  What did Wally say?

You’re getting emotional, Trix.  Calm down, mate.

Here!  What are you accusin’ me of?

No.

No, I don’t care what Wally said, he’s a bleedin’ liar!  Hide and Seek was definitely not my idea!

No Trix, it’s no good blaming me.  I told you Wally was a bad choice, now, didn’t I?  You’ll have to call the police, mate.

You have;  that’s good.

Yes, you go.

Robbo’s what?

He’s licking Angelina?  Oh, the chocolate…

SODDIN’ HELL!

What?

Sorry.  Sorry Trix!  Chas just went flying past me in that van of his.  He’s a maniac, that man!  You look after yourself, Trix love.  I’ll get onto Wals and see what I can find out.”

 

Noreen taps Jack Lopghast’s name on her ‘phone.

 

“Jack, sweetheart, it’s Noreen again.  Sorry to cut us off, love, but Trix is in a right tiz.

Yeah, she’s lost one of her little monsters.

No, of course it’ll be all right, we ain’t got no paedo-tricians round here, nor nothing.  She’s just panicking, as usual.   Anyway, you were saying about Chas buggering off and leaving you and Paul to finish?  Funny thing, Jack sweetheart, Chas just passed me tearing down the ‘ill in his van.

Yeah.  Yeah, he did have something banging around on the roof rack, now you mention it.

‘At least you know the excuse was genuine’ – what do you mean?

An old cupboard out the back of Wal’s place – it’s been there for months, has it?

No, I don’t remember it.  Mind, I haven’t been round his for months, now I think of it.  Anyway, you told Wally to get it shifted because it made his garden look like a scrap yard?

Chas promised him he’d take it down the tip for him this afternoon, did he?

Wal told him he’d leave the back gate unlocked so he could nip in and pick it up, yeah?

That’d be what he had on the roof rack then, just now, when I saw him, wouldn’t it?

Probably.  Right.

Jack, sweetheart, I’m going to ring off now.

Yeah.  I think I’d better give Trixie a call…”

# 

Author note: 

Obviously, ‘Essex Woman’ is a wicked stereotype.  All Essex women are not married to footballers, showy, vulgar, insensitive or dense.   But the stereotype is much more fun, innit? 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.